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Facing Budget Shortages, Nearly One in Five UK Museums Will Make Partial Closures by 2016, Survey Reveals

Across the United Kingdom, many museums are facing an uncertain future due to severe cuts in public funding. According to research accumulated by the Museums Association, eighteen percent, or one in five museums, have made partial closures within the past year or will be forced to do so in 2016.

The Museums Association’s fifth Cuts Survey for 2015 sources its data from one-hundred and fifteen participants. This was the first time the survey asked for full financial data on public funding, grants and donations, and self-generated income.

The survey revealed that sustained funding cuts are coming at a time when museums are at their most valued. Despite the drop in funding, the data shows a 61 percent increase in visitors over the past five years.

Cuts in funding have led to significant changes in the way these museums must operate and have put museum collections at risk. The practice of selling works, such as Northampton Borough Council’s controversial sale of an Egyptian statue from its stored collection in 2014, is worrisome to the Museums Association. Eleven percent of museums reported that they would consider parting with works for their institution’s financial health.

“We know from previous research that funding cuts are changing the way museums are managed with many forced to cut jobs, introduce admission charges, reduce opening hours and cut back on other services,” said director of the Museums Association Sharon Heal. There has already been a 13 percent decrease in temporary exhibitions and a 29 percent drop in group visits from schools. To prevent further elimination of public services, the survey showed that 8 percent of museums began charging for admission last year and 12 percent are expected to charge in 2016.

Forty-four museums have closed in the UK since 2010. Museums in Northern Ireland and the north of England reported the largest decrease in public funding – 6 percent and 5 percent respectively.

The responses to the tough decisions many museums are being forced to make has been varied. An independent museum located in East Midlands reported that they have become more commercial than ever before and have been using galleries to hold corporate events.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for a university museum east of England said “We do not charge for any events and believe everything we do, within reason, should be free of charge.”